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Carlson on Environmental Art “Is Env. Art an Aesthetic Affront to Nature?” 1986, Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

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Presentation on theme: "Carlson on Environmental Art “Is Env. Art an Aesthetic Affront to Nature?” 1986, Canadian Journal of Philosophy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Carlson on Environmental Art “Is Env. Art an Aesthetic Affront to Nature?” 1986, Canadian Journal of Philosophy

2 Definition of Env. Art Site is part of the work itself Part of nature is part of aesthetic object; it is part of the work of art Not just art that is located in nature How related to definition of site-specific art? Was TA env. art?

3 Christo’s Surrounded Islands 1983

4 DeMaria’s Las Vegas Piece 1970 Eight foot by ¾ mile earthmark in desert

5 Smithson’s Spiral Jetty 1970

6 Nature of Carlson’s criticism Not moral or ecological criticism –E.g., Flooding parts of Asia as artwork would be morally and ecologically wrong –As it would harm people and nature An aesthetic criticism: Aesthetic affront to nature

7 Aesthetic Affront to Nature Aesthetic indignity Aesthetic imposition Due to aesthetic qualities of environmental art Affront to nature, not necessarily to appreciator Nature can be affronted –Even though nature doesn’t know it is being affronted –Jones might also not realize or be able to realize he’s being affronted

8 Mistaken accounts of why Env. Art is Aesthetic Affront Similar/identical in appearance to things like mining/industry/commerce that all agree are aesthetic affronts –We require reclamation/restoration –Because they are eyesores

9 Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown 1969 Looks just like industrial pollution So it’s an eyesore like industrial pollution is and thus an aesthetic affront Road foreman: “If I dumped my extra asphalt like that they’d make me clean it up.”

10 Heizer’s Double Negative feet by 30 feet by 1,5000 foot double cut in Virgin River Mesa, Nevada, displaced 240,000 tons of rhyolite and sandstone Looks like skyline mining notches in Appalachia Thus it’s an eyesore like those are

11 Reply: Same appearance not = same aesthetic quality Aesthetic qualities of object those it appears to have when appropriately appreciated as the kind of thing it is –When appreciated in the right category Two things identical in appearance can have different aesthetic quality if different kinds of things E.g., Duchamp’s fountain versus ordinary urinal E.g., Asphalt Rundown is art, not pollution, thus it may have different aesthetic qualities Heizer’s double negative can have majesty while identically appearing mining notch does not

12 Why must appreciate aesthetic object in right category? Lively or a bit sedate? Post impressionism or German Expressionism?

13 German expressionism

14 Change in kind of object can (must?) change its aesthetic qualities Does change in aesthetic qualities of an aesthetic object lead to (necessarily?) an aesthetic affront? Examples where it does

15 Duchamp’s LHOOQ Duchamp’s mustached and goateed Mona Lisa changed work’s kind from Renaissance Portrait to 20 th century Dada and changed its aesthetic qualities A clear denigration and aesthetic affront Was this simply because it was a change in kind, or due to the type of change

16 Michelangelo’s David Monty Python’s turning of Michelangelo’s David into a kinetic structure with a moveable right arm Would have dramatically different aesthetic qualities even when arm at rest An aesthetic affront

17 Env. art is aesthetic affront to nature because Changes kind of thing part of nature is Changes if from being part of nature to part of an artwork Aesthetic qualities are changed Env. art is an affront because turns nature into art and changes aesthetic qualities and this is an affront

18 Even if env. art is not necessarily an aesthetic affront, many env. Artworks in fact are like Duchamp’s LHOOQ and Python’s David in constituting an aesthetic affront

19 Questions Does the existence of an affront depend on –How aesthetic qualities are changed, not that they are changed? –On intention of env. artist and the nature of the env. art? Is any dramatic env. change to nature an aesthetic affront? –Farming, forestry, home building aesthetic affronts?

20 Some env. artists intend to affront nature Smithson: “Disruption of earth’s crust can be compelling and has a primordial grandeur” Heizer: “I’m in the construction business. I mess with nature. I defile it.” Picasso: “Nature exists to be raped”

21 Carlson replies to 4 objections Affront is only temporary Env. art improves nature Artist is a part of nature so not changing kind of thing part of nature is Env. art not changing nature’s kind or aesthetic qualities, but spotlighting them

22 When env. art is temporary, there will be no aesthetic affront? Much env. art is temporary and nature is resilient Thus there has been no aesthetic affront Reply: But affronts are still affronts even if temporary –I come into your house and move all the furniture and art around to improve the aesthetics –Even if I return the furniture to its original position later, I still affronted you.

23 Christo’s Valley Curtain, Rifle, Co Christo’s response to whether the valley near Rifle Colorado remains unaffected after having hosted Valley Curtain “Perhaps not” So perhaps affront is permanent?

24 Env art typically improves nature? Because done in non-scenic areas, env. art does not affront –Little of aesthetic merit there to affront –“Bringing up” “low profile” landscapes (Smithson) Reply: Carlson’s Positive Aesthetics Because all of nature has positive aesthetic qualities, can’t argue no affront –Nature is not like some second rate hack whose work need improving (“gussying up”)

25 Env. artist is part of nature? If env. artist is part of nature then env. art does not change nature to something that is not nature, so no change in kind and no aesthetic affront Not plausible to say Duchamp’s LHOOQ not an affront because both original and the LHOOQ are art (no change in kind) –So even if env. art does not change basic kind of thing nature is, it can change it enough to be an affront If artist acts purposelessly like nature, then it’s like vandalism

26 Heizer’s Mass Removed and Put Back

27 Env. art not changing nature’s kind or aesthetic qualities, but spotlighting them ? Env. art is a means of displaying or enhancing nature’s beauty Rather like providing the Mona Lisa with lighting rather than with a mustache

28 Does Christo’s 1969 Wrapped Coast—Little Bay—One Million Square Feet “accentuate, make more visible, reveal and intensify” the texture and color of the sand by wrapping it in this malleable fabric ? Does some env. art frame the landscape (internal skeleton-like frames) that displays and enhances rather than alters object’s aesthetic qualities

29 Christo’s Running Fence Internally frames the landscape? Frame overwhelms that which is framed?

30 Alan Sonfist’s Rock Monument of Buffalo ( ) Rocks from the local region positioned such that the work “makes clear in one experience the geology of the entire region” –Presenting rather than altering nature; “nature asserts itself as itself” Contrast with Heizer’s Elevated Surface, Depressed (1981), monument where rocks mounted on aluminum slabs and positioned according to geometrical rather than geological considerations

31 Sonfist’s env. art is most likely not to be an aesthetic affront Time Landscape ( ) where he restored sites throughout NY City to their likely appearance before urbanization Attempt to create pre-colonial landscapes These do little if anything to alter nature’s aesthetic qualities and are best case for avoiding aesthetic affront Carlson worries that they assume nature can be appreciated only if it is taken to be art.

32 Andy Goldsworth’s Environmental Art an Aesthetic Affront?


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